SCOTTISH students are being turned away from university courses because there are insufficient places, a leading principal has warned.

Professor Sir Ian Diamond, principal of Aberdeen University, said the institution “sadly” had to reject applicants because of a cap on places.

In Scotland, tuition fees are paid for from the public purse, but in order to ensure the system is affordable numbers are tightly controlled.

In England, students pay their own fees - and therefore end up with higher average debt - but there is no cap on places.

Read more: Think tank attacks SNP free tuition policy

Sir Ian told the Scottish Parliament’s education committee: “There are many subjects we would like to take more students onto where students are well-qualified Scottish students who would be able to come, but we do not have the space for them.

“When we sadly, and it is very difficult for us, have to say that we don’t have the space for them I can’t tell you where they go.

“Whether they go to other universities in Scotland to study the subject they really wish to, whether they go to other universities in Scotland for a subject that is their second or third choice or whether they are pushed either into England or not to university.”

Read more: Middle classes 'will be squeezed out of universities'

As an example, Sir Ian said the university would “love” to increase the number of Scottish medical students, but couldn’t.

He added: “Do we need to expand the number of medical students? My own view is that would be a very good thing and we would be delighted to take some more students.”

Asked by Conservative MSP Liz Smith whether the cap on funded places should be lifted Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said that would create financial problems unless funding was also increased.

He said: “If there were a political choice to remove the cap there would also be a political choice that the funding for each student in an expanding system should be sufficient.

Mr Sim called for extra money freed up by the Brexit process to be reinvested in higher education.

EU students are currently funded from the public purse, but will have to pay fees once the UK leaves the European Union.

Universities argue the money should be used to fund more places for Scottish students - although ministers have already appeared to rule out the move.

One of the issues is the fact universities could gain from Brexit without extra public funding because EU students will have to pay higher fees - as long as numbers remain stable.

Read more: Brexit 'silver lining' for Scottish universities

Mr Sim said the Brexit cash would also help prevent a “squeeze” on middle class students because of moves to recruit more applicants from poorer backgrounds.

He said: “As you increase your recruitment from the most deprived parts of the community you also want to protect your ability to recruit from all the other parts of the community.

“To achieve that it’s reasonable to look for growth in the number of funded places so that we can be fair to everybody.

“That means more funded places which as we have said we have the opportunity as we look beyond Brexit.”

Read more: Minister snubs demand for Brexit cash to be spent on universities

The education committee is currently assessing how effectively universities are widening access to poorer students.